A state lawmaker from Memphis delivered a fiery speech Tuesday in which he said public schools are filled with “immoral” students whose parents “can care less” about their education. He also defended student suspensions and the right of teachers to fight back.
The comments came from Rep. John DeBerry, who is Memphis’s strongest proponent of school vouchers in the legislature, during a discussion of a Teachers Bill of Rights that lawmakers are considering putting in place.
The remarks offered new insight into DeBerry’s motivation for wanting families to be able to use public funding to pay private school tuition — to allow students to escape surroundings he described as an educational hellscape.
“We’ve got people who can care less whether or not their child is educated, just as long as their child is out of the house so they can go back to bed. And while it is not politically correct to say stuff like that, we all know it exists,” said DeBerry, a Democrat who consistently has promoted vouchers as a tool to help students escape “failing” schools.
“So when we take that teacher and take 25 to 30 unraised, untaught, irremannerable [sic], immoral, don’t-care-you-can’t-teach-give-a-flip, you can’t teach that,” he said. “You’ve got chaos and you’ve got good little children who want to learn trapped in that mess and a teacher who wants to control it.”
The Teachers Bill of Rights — written with input from the Professional Educators of Tennessee, the second-largest teachers association in the state — is intended to signify lawmakers’ respect for the teaching profession. It declares that teachers should be allowed to defend themselves against students and to report offensive behavior to administrators.
“We hope teachers are going to feel empowered,” said J.C. Bowman, the group’s president. “At last this legislative body is sending a message that (teachers) are indeed respected for what they do.”
The measure originally included items about teacher evaluation and out-of-pocket spending, but now features only rights related to student behavior. One sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jay Reedy, said he hopes to add those rights back in the future.
The House Education Administration and Planning Committee on Tuesday passed both the Bill of Rights and legislation from Rep. Raumesh Akbari, another Memphis Democrat, that would require the state to try to reduce suspensions in prekindergarten and kindergarten. DeBerry questioned if alternatives to suspension are necessary.
“Of course they’re going to [need to] send students out of school, even in kindergarten, because you’re not sending a student to school; you’re sending a problem,” DeBerry said.